Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

About Kingdom & Rulership Relationships, Society, Culture Right Order & Right Judgment

But what about businesswomen?!

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5 minutes to read Women in business are not usurping the father-rule that God made men to carry; they are exercising authority in matters of production. However, it is important to remember that God designed this to happen within the context of the household, not the emaciated quasi-household that is the modern corporation.

Aside from Deborah, this is the recurring response to the argument against female rulers.

To know what is appropriate for women in business, we need to first go back to what is appropriate for women in the household, and then figure out how business relates to that.

This is because the household is the primitive unit of society. It is the originator of order in the world. Adam’s household was also the original kingdom. As God’s son, Adam was a vassal king, representing God’s rule in creation. [See D. Bnonn Tennant, What is the kingdom of God? Part 1: representation and rulership (January 2017).] His house’s mission was to expand and carry on God’s work of establishing right order in the world [See also my observations about command of, and command over, as modeled by God in creation: D. Bnonn Tennant, Was Jesus an alpha male? Part 2: command, section 1 (March 2018).] (compare how Jesus, in the gospel which especially emphasizes his sonship, repeatedly speaks of doing only what the Father has given him to do). [For an important ancillary discussion, see my comments around sonship with respect to covenant and righteousness: D. Bnonn Tennant, Works righteousness: a square contractual peg in a round covenantal hole (March 2018).]

So a household is a kingdom in microcosm. As it expands and becomes many households, the kingdom in turn expands into its fullness. But it does not fundamentally change form; it only grows into maturity. This is why Israel as a national kingdom is still called the “house of Israel” (e.g. Exodus 40:38).

In Hebrew, house and household are the same word: בַּ֫יִת, beyt. I use the English words interchangeably to emphasize the broader conceptual nexus that follows from the language of Scripture.

God carries his rule into the world through the fathers of households. Every father rules his own house, and as these houses multiply, the wiser fathers work together to rule their clans and tribes, all the way up to the national level. The purpose of this is always right order: establishing and maintaining the relationships between people and God, and between people and people. A father is a priest and a king. This is the system we see Moses establish in Exodus 18; indeed, the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is married to a town patriarch who sits in the gate to judge disputes among the people, and to ensure the right order, the shalom of the houses under his care.

This brings us back to women in households and businesses. The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is a businesswoman. She assesses and buys a field; she plants a vineyard and sells the produce; she produces linen and trades it to merchants. But she does all this not as her own boss, nor as an employee, but as a wife. This is because the household was, until very recently, the basic unit of both order and production in society. (Incidentally, even relatively untaught Christians seem to internalize this quite often; the number of Christian entrepreneurs is surprisingly high.)

A wife would have charge of servants and unmarried sons, with varying degrees of authority over them. But her authority was not one of judgment over moral matters; not one of ruling over these vertical and horizontal relationships; but rather over affairs of utility. Production is a separate issue to justice. Both are about ordering the world, but they are separate categories.

When the Bible speaks against women ruling, it is speaking against them representing God as father and king. It is speaking against them having priestly jurisdiction over how we must relate to God or others. But it is not speaking against them representing God at all, since otherwise they would not be the image of God! Women are made expressly to complete man’s representation of God, by filling and refining the world. [ D. Bnonn Tennant, Are women made in the image of God? (October 2018).]

But here’s a wrinkle: the way God set up the world, women could have authority over men in matters of production, but that authority was still set in the context of the household. A woman was a steward of her husband, helping him to establish order in whatever way he needed. If he died, she could continue to do much of that work alone if she did not require the security of a new husband—that would be rare in the ancient world, but certainly the woman of Proverbs 31 seems capable of self-sufficiency.

This is a wrinkle, because a woman working in some other unit of production than her own household is an extraordinary and novel idea. The household is where production primarily happened, and also not-so-coincidentally where a woman’s responsibility first lies. So the situation we find ourselves in today is bizarre, even pathological, compared to God’s design.

A woman who works in a business that is not an extension of her household is in a weird situation. She might not have a choice, but she is effectively working either as the head of a quasi-household, if she is the business owner; or—vastly more commonly—as the steward of another man’s quasi-household, since nearly all significant businesses have men at the very top. [E.g., Áine Cain, A new list of the top CEOs ‘for women’ is mostly men—and it reflects a wider problem in business in Business Insider Australia (June 2018).] Neither of these is necessarily wrong, but they are a far cry from the original design. It’s no surprise that women have been getting progressively unhappier as they have been progressively “empowered” in the workplace; [ Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness in The National Bureau of Economic Research (May 2009).] focusing on competition and advancement rather than nurture and flourishing forces them to treat their feminine strengths and virtues as weaknesses and liabilities.

For a woman to have authority in business is fine, because production is both a masculine and feminine mandate. A female executive is not representing God’s father-rule. But the business world itself is demented in that it has torn a rift between households and production, and this creates some very thorny difficulties for women to negotiate—difficulties they often negotiate poorly, and end up regretting when they are older. It masculinizes many women—short hair, power suits, bossy attitudes—and makes them both unattractive and miserable. If it is at all possible, it is far better for a woman to focus on stewarding the production of her own household than of an emaciated household-knockoff.

 4 comments

Jane

So, what exactly is the a women’s role in the home or in the world? I easily accept that it isn’t supposed to be to rule over the family or over nations. But then I don’t know exactly what it is instead? I feel like you are hinting at it here but I’m not getting it. Maybe I am just being dense.

This is something I have been thinking about for years. I am rather unhappy in life and I think it largely stems from not understanding what my purpose or role in the world is supposed to be. And because I don’t know I am quite likely not doing it I’m probably trying to do things the culture has said to do rather than what I ought to do. But when I consider the question I don’t know the answer, at least I don’t think I do. I’m a mom and a wife and I think those things are important and they are clearly roles, but what am I actually supposed to be striving to do in those roles? And what is there that makes a women uniquely suited to be those things? What is there other than, having babies that women are better suited to then men?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Jane, it’s a fair question. Because of the focus of this blog, I do tend to talk more about the problem than the solution. In fact, a lot of the purpose of this blog is just for me to figure out what is the problem.

At the most fundamental level, to understand gender roles we have to go back to creation. There are a couple of key things to note there:

  1. God makes a point of illustrating that it’s not good for the man to be alone. He needs a helper, a counterpart, an ezer as his negd (Gen 2:20). An ezer does that which you cannot; a negd is that which is opposite or stands across from you. The picture is of two facing parts which, while complete in themselves, also fit together in such a way that they become a greater whole. Alone, neither one of them can carry God’s dominion into the world. Together they can, by filling out what the other lacks.
  2. The command to mankind is to “fill and subdue” the earth. While there are a rich range of ways in which this happens, at the most basic level, Eve is more fitted to filling, and Adam is more fitted to subduing. Men are defined by strength and utility; women are defined by fruitfulness and beauty. Men tear down and build up; women fill and refine. Men create a house; women create a home. Etc.

I think this gives us a good direction to move in, even if it doesn’t necessarily answer your question as comprehensively as you’d like. But there is one other thing to note, which I think very important: men are made to lead, and women to follow. Submission is critical to women’s happiness; they become anxious and unhappy when it falls on them to decide on a vision for the future, and how to get there. The curse threw a spanner in the works on this point, because women now have a desire for their husbands that is likened to sin’s desire for Cain. They tend to self-sabotage by becoming anxious about the future, and taking matters into their own hands, which just makes them more anxious. But this problem is greatly compounded in the modern day because most men have been conditioned never to lead. They haven’t just been not taught to lead; they’ve been taught not to lead. To be the head, the decision-maker, the one who must have a vision and make a plan that the woman can follow and get behind—that is misogyny today. It is very sad because it robs both men and women of what is most likely to bring them contentment and joy.

You can’t really have submission without a mission. I can’t speak to your own situation, but I think a lot of the time, women are unhappy for two reasons: one is that they don’t know their place or their role; the second is that their husband doesn’t know his. You need both in place to fully fix the problem.

Jane

Thank you, you have given me some things to think about. I’m going to ponder this for a few days before I say anything else.

Sarah Tennant

Hey Jane. As a fellow woman, I’ve been pondering similar issues lately. Christian teachers tend to explicate women’s roles in purely negative terms – defining us by what we don’t/can’t/shouldn’t do (preaching, leading and so on). Many women rebel against that due to feminist beliefs; but other women simply find it rather unhelpful – just as men would find it unhelpful to have their role defined as “not having babies”.

I have yet to find a really robust, positive, concrete definition of female roles that applies both to married and unmarried women. I think that’s partly because there’s really a LOT of overlap between men’s and women’s purpose on the earth – ultimately, bringing glory to God by imaging Him – and most virtues, skills and character traits are desirable for both sexes. So articulating the points of difference, which are sometimes just nuances (ie, kindness is godly for both men and women, but it might look slightly different for each)… it’s pretty tricky.

I do like Bnonn’s subduing/filling distinction, which could possibly also be phrased as conquering/enriching, or even perhaps production/processing (or production/value-adding?) But when you apply that to specific tasks, it’s pretty easy to sway them to one side or the other depending on cultural bias. (Is planting a flower bed dominating the soil, bringing order out of chaos and wielding tools – a masculine task – or nurturing, keeping the home and providing beauty – a feminine task? You could overthink it to death.)

So yeah, it’s tricky. On the other hand, you and I (being wives and mothers) have the privilege of not having to worry (on a practical level, at least) about the role of women in general; because the Bible gives more specific instructions to wives and mothers. Proverbs 31, Titus 2, etc. It’s pretty clear: keep the home, nurture the children, serve the church, enrich the household through frugality and enterprise, show hospitality, support your husband in his endeavors.

And I’m doubly lucky in that I’m keen on traditionally, old-fashionedly feminine domestic pursuits. I like sewing and baking and making jam and all that jazz; if my hobbies were paragliding and nuclear medicine I’d have more to wrestle with, you know?

On the other hand, given that we *are* for better or worse in a post-industrial age, playing Little House on the Prairie isn’t necessarily the best thing for the family either. It’s easy to fall into the conservative-Christian-woman trap of seeking salvation through homemade bread and kombucha, but there are circumstances in which it might benefit the family more if you just bought the darn bread so you could have time to get a job to pay the bills while your husband goes through medical school.

It’s a complicated issue, definitely!

 


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